The U.S. Department of Agriculture will be giving a $510,978 grant to the University of Rhode Island in an effort to support agriculture, land conservation and water quality.

Announced on Feb. 25 by Sen. Jack Reed, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Jim Langevin, the grant is part of $14 million given out nation wide from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. NIFA awarded these funds to programs that support sustainable farming, rural development and economic growth through agriculture.

“I am pleased URI is receiving this federal funding to help share their expertise and further their efforts in support of our agricultural economy,” said Reed, in a press release. “We need to invest in positive community economic development strategies and protect Rhode Island’s rural areas and open spaces.”

Rhode Island has become known in recent years for its successful local food markets and farm to table restaurants. The small size of the state makes it a perfect atmosphere for this type of cooperation, but that small size is a vice and a virtue. In such a small state that is densely populated, ample land for even small-scale farmers is hard to come by.

Langevin said that URI is the center of agriculture for Rhode Island.  “We must support the efforts of farmers not only to be profitable and sustainable, but also in their fight to increase access to local food sources, which can only happen when we preserve farmland,” he said.

Langevin recently started a Food First Advisory Committee to help support the farming industry and local economy. “We, as a state and as a nation, must commit to increasing the amount of food we produce and consume locally.”

Most of the award, $463,096, will go towards forest and open land conservation. The rest of the grant, about $47,882, will fund a water quality workshop through the NIFA program.

“These grants will be used to understand people’s preferences for open space,” said Associate Dean of CELS Richard Rhodes in a release. “That farm and forest lands can be sustained, and so those lands may continue to provide critical ecosystem services and maintain the rural character of communities in Southern New England.”